Criminal Justice Research Paper Sample on Corrections and Penology in the United States

Corrections and Penology in the United States

  1. Correction and Penology

In linguistics, Penology is defined as the study of crime punishment and prison management (Curie 3). This form of punishment deals with the effectiveness of social processes applied or adopted in crime prevention (Curie 4). It also deals with the probation, treatment, and rehabilitation of convicted inmates. The word corrections in the United States is an umbrella term defining a group of functions executed by the federal government in the punishment, handling, and supervision of convicted members of the society (Curie 5). These services include detention, probation, and parole. A prison or penal system is a correctional facility used to hold offenders. A criminal system incorporates a network of agencies, for example, the police, courts, prosecution, and community that take part in administering punishment.

b)    History of correction and penology in the United States

Theories of punishment in history were based on the notion that offences were discouraged by the threat of dreadful consequences. For example, the Bloody Code of Ancient Greece prescribed capital punishment for more than 200 crimes (Furtek 16). Previous forms of correction included hanging, forced labor, corporal punishment, and social isolation. Detention cells were then used a holding place for people awaiting sentence. Most of the forms of punishment in the United States were adopted from England, who was their colonial master. In the 18th century, the English developed new views on humanity and liberty and introduced incarceration as the primary form of punishment (Furtek 23). It was established on the basis that restricting individual freedom was enough punishment to a person, and the detention period was determined by the nature of the crime committed. The early United States adopted this view, and the deeply religious people went to the extent of considering Biblical crimes like blasphemy and adultery as legal offences.

Prisons in America were characterized by overcrowding, poor hygiene, and poor maintenance. There was an outrage over the filthy conditions of penitentiaries and in the 19th Century, human rights activists began a movement advocating for the reforms of prisons (Hattis 215). They stated that the role of the jails was to change offenders into model citizens by providing counseling, works, and education for them. Other changes like separation of children from adults were made in this era hence the introduction of the juvenile system (Hattis 217). Despite the efforts of activists to campaign for change, the living conditions in prisons continued to deteriorate.

Significant changes occurred in the 20th century. For example, prison structures were designed to provide a less oppressive atmosphere by increasing the size of the holding cells, and developing them to provide more daylight inside (Furtek 57). They attempted to create a better hygiene, provide better food, and introduce counsellors in the system. This is the period where term penology or punishment was switched to “corrections” (Robinson 4). All facilities adopted a standard minimum rule, and the judges were stricter in enforcing human rights laws among prisoners. The judiciary, however, set new crimes and sentencing laws especially on the war on drugs. The prison reform era did not last long because, towards the end of the 20th century, more jails have been built in isolated. Depressed, and squeezed areas, holding a significant number of offenders at a given time and managing them using Draconian laws (Javitze 92). 

c)    Forms of Correction

In most cases, the punishment of crimes is chosen according to the seriousness of the offence, and criminal history of the offender. Both federal and states systems categorize sin into misdemeanors, which are small sins, and felonies, which are dangerous ones (Pantoja and Jason 34). The purpose of punishment is to discourage future crimes. Therefore, punishment serves the purpose of preventing an offence from re-occurring, and setting an example to others. It is based on the presumption that individuals will weigh the need to offend against the consequence and deduce that serving time is not worth the offence. Punishment also serves the purpose of exacting vengeance. It is based on the presumption that criminals deserve to face a penalty for morally offending the society. A human being possesses free will and his or her involvement in crime is a conscious choice that should face consequences.

Different states apply different approaches and law in punishment because the United States lacks a uniform approach to retribution. They are aimed at deterring crime and punishing the offender. The Model Penal Code (1960) provided for rehabilitative punishment that saw prisoners serve an unspecified sentence period (Hattis 73). For example, an inmate was sentenced to three to five years in jail. After the minimum stipulated time, the prison officials formed a parole board to decide whether the prisoner was rehabilitated enough to be released. Many of the states adopted this approach and gave the judiciary the discretion in choosing the initial range. This system no longer works as most of them currently provide for determinate sentences. The society then became disillusioned about rehabilitation leading to an increase in crime rate and dissatisfaction in the system.

Crimes can be categorized as misdemeanor or felonies (Robinson 7). The initial comprises of less severe crimes. In most states, the maximum sentence for such is up to a year in jail. People who commit felonies are sentenced to more years and committed to state prisons. The greatest punishment for heinous crimes in some states and the federal system is the death penalty. Other forms of punishment include probation, fines, restitution, and parole. In this conditional release, the defendant is ordered to serve a period in which he or she must meet specific conditions. These include occasional meetings with an assigned probation officer, staying crime-free, avoiding bad company, drugs and alcohol abstinence, and participation in community service. It may be introduced after serving a stipulated amount of jail time, or it can be used to replace incarceration. Failure to adhere to probation terms leads to increased jail time or a revocation of the hearing. The majority of criminal punishments have fines that are paid to the courts. Restitution involves the compensation or reimbursement of the victim by the offender. It includes cases in which the material or personal welfare of other people is affected. The victims are paid to be compensated for their loss or injury. The parole system works in states that still apply the indeterminate sentence rule. The prisoners are released before serving their maximum sentence if they portray reform and proper conduct under a parole board. After their release, they are supervised up to the end of their determinate sentence.

  • Effects of Punitive Correction Methods

The level to which punishment is considered as effective is measured by its success in subduing the undesired behavior. It also depends on practices applied to both the general and specific audiences. Psychological research indicates that mild punishment is an effective behavior change method whereas severe punishment is less effective. The efficiency of retribution is increased by the immediacy and frequency of application, and the use of positive reinforcement combined with penalties.

Research indicates that severe punishment has adverse effects like avoidance, escape, alienation, aggressiveness, conditioning punishers through rewards, and reproduction of punishment behavior in those penalized. The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) claims that the number of crimes committed can be reduced by increasing the severity of punishment (Palmer 66). However, very few people agree to this. The research also claims that crime rate in the United States declined according to the sentence per crime, and rose when the sentence duration drops. According to NCPA, there was an annual 5% reduction in crime in the United States between 1990 and 2000, over 70% less auto-theft, 50% fewer burglaries, and over 60% fewer burglaries (Palmer 68). The reduction is attributed to the US imprisonment policy that deters and incapacitates offenders.

Several critics have disputed the NCPA findings by denying a correlation between punishment and crime reduction. The research is deemed to have ignored the differences in states, and that crime rates rose sharply after the year 2000 even though incapacitation and incarceration remained high. Other reasons are given for the said decline. For example, an improved and stable economy, decline in the drug market, a lower male population birth rate, increased law enforcement, and enhanced community policing strategies.

There exist several reasons as to why the effectiveness of the prison system in the United States is questionable. Statistics indicate that two-thirds of offenders commit more serious offenses within three years of their release, and over 90% return to their communities (Palmer 72). How they are treated in prisons is a reflection of how they will address the society upon their release. The severe nature of incarceration in correctional facilitates cannot be questioned, but its effectiveness in rehabilitating individuals is wanting. Its ability to prevent potential offenses is questionable because committing a crime is a result of personal motivation. The argument supporting deterrence is based on the notion that criminals act based on selfish- interests and rational reasoning. However, literature in criminology indicates that there are different motivating factors like personalities, biological dispositions, social learning, location, ecology, and social implication. Criminologists, therefore, reject the notion that crime is as a result of rational thinking, and believe that people break the law for a different reason. In this light, admitting an individual in a correctional facility without knowing the actual reason for the committed offence may prove futile.

e)    Strengths and Limitations of Correctional Facilities

This section highlights the advantages and restrictions of correctional facilities in the United States by reviewing their positive and negative influence or impact. Firstly, the institutions are beneficial because they hold offenders and keep them off the streets. Imagine a world in which serious offenders like rapists were allowed to roam in the streets just because they have been allowed to attend educational programs or counseling for behavior reform. Residents all over would live in fear of being the next victims. Correctional facilities are also beneficial because they keep convicts pre-occupied. Even though they are subjected to hard labor or activities, not of their choosing, this engagement reduces the chance of them being involved in crime. Prisons are also sufficient for punishment because locking away offenders gives the society time to heal from acts committed against them. Their absence is the closest form of justice for acts performed against them, and they feel avenged. These facilities are also useful because some of the inmates get reformed. This is the case especially with small offenders, who would prefer not to risk their freedom again for the time spent in prison. Depending on various factors, some become remorseful and feel that changing their behavior is the best way to apologize for their acts. The facilities that promote education and encourage rehabilitation programs enable the inmates to gain basic survival skills for use on their release. For example, some turn into counselors, while others get casual jobs to allow them to earn a living instead of resorting to crime.

On the other side, the facilities have the right intentions towards curbing wrong deeds and reforming prisoners, but weak systems and execution of programs have proved to be a challenge in punishment. First of all, most of the centers expose prisoners to harsh living conditions, such as, overcrowding, poor hygiene, bad food, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, and restriction of expression. Even though these people are offenders, they are still human beings whose individual rights need to be observed. Mistreating them or exposing them to poor living conditions beats the purpose of rehabilitation. Instead of promoting an atmosphere that encourages behavior change, the jails produce hardened people who become more resistant to harsh living conditions. They quickly resort to crime even after their release because they grow accustomed to those conditions.

The poor administration has also led to the failure of the penal system in the US (U.C.R.P 120). When the administrators are not mistreating the inmates, they favor others and go as far as conducting illegal businesses with them for a share (Shannon 163). The primary reason for this is because the wardens are poorly paid. In fact, some offenders prefer to stay in jail to conduct their business from a secure environment. Instead of promoting rehabilitation, prison administrators endorse advanced methods of participating in crime.

The system is also failing because states do not have a follow-up program for integrating released offenders back into the society (U.C.R.P 122). Some of them stay locked up for long that they lack a way forward when released. They struggle to survive, and for this reason, most end up committing crimes intentionally just to end back in jail; a life they are too familiar with. Stigmatization from the society also affects individuals whether they reform or not, and most of them have a hard time being accepted back in the society even by their families. Some of them act out by joining gangs where they feel they fit, committing crime to go to prison, or living a secluded life

f)    A Review of the Boot Camp Program as an Extreme Crime Punishment Method

This section will focus on one of the forms of punishment still in use in the United States namely boot camp for offenders. They are considered as part of the governmental correctional system predominant in the United States. This method of correction was sculpted from military training camps, and based on administering shock incarceration (Gray 33). It applies the use of prolonged physical aggressive training and use of lethal force in harsh conditions, resulting in the death of many participants.

g)    History of Boot Camp in the United States

The first boot camp was introduced in Georgia and Oklahoma States in the late 20th century (Stephens 34). They were designed to be less restraining than prisons, but stricter than probation. The program was mostly offered to young offenders instead of placing them in jail or on parole. They are required to serve between 3 to 4 months of boot camp in place of a sentence of up to 10 years. Even though the program is authorized under the United States Constitution, participation still requires the consent of the offender. By 1995, almost two-thirds of the states in America were operating such programs and about 50 of them still existed by the year 2000 (Gray 27). State-run camps were banned in Florida in the year 2006 when a 14 year old boy passed away while at the camp, leading to people questioning its effectiveness (Laubepin 65).

h)    How Boot camps Work

They were designed as alternative forms of punishment, and a way to reduce recidivism, manage prison population, and cut on operating costs. It worked on the basis that modification of behavior occurs through reinforcing positive, and punishing negative behavior. Participation limits young first time or non-violent offenders and they were designed for adults. However, the selection or qualification criteria vary according to each program.

The participants are required to commit to a rigorous schedule of activities on a daily basis until the end of their program. Some of these activities include manual labor, physical training, endurance, and drill ceremonies (Mandery 234). They are woken up quite early and kept pre-occupied until late with little to no free time. Strict rules are applied to regulate their conduct and appearance. Correctional officers, who attain military roles and titles that the inmates are required to address them by, run the activities. Most of these officers are individuals who have previously worked in or trained with the military. They use verbal tactics to instigate behavior and discourage opposition. Punishment for defaulting any of their rules is almost always instant, physical, and gruesome.

Although most of these programs have the same characteristics, there is no standard camp model, and they vary on an individual level. For example, there is a variation of time spent on physical training and hard labor in comparison to other aspects of counseling, life skills, training, and education. Some may offer adjustment programs for participants while others choose not to. The programs also differ on whether they serve as an alternative to imprisonment while others are designed for inmates already serving time in jail.

i)    Strengths and Limitations of the Boot Camp Program

There are quite slim chances of boot camp success in reducing crime and recidivism among adults.  Looking at the structure of the program, exposing people to intense physical training creates temporary physical discomfort to the participants. It works best to discourage individuals who have not yet offended from committing crime due to the experience of those who have undergone the program. This program also works best for minor adults or children who are still in the molding stage. That way, they relate any offense they are about to commit to the grueling experience received at the camp. The young ones are also in the process of forming their worldviews, behavior, and beliefs, and putting them on the right track early saves future nuisance.

The limitations of this program outweigh the strengths by far. Firstly, the issue of whether young children are physically and mentally built for extreme conditions like those, and how effective it is for adults who can adapt to the harsh circumstances in no time. In the case of children, some may end up rebellious instead of reformed, and others become too traumatized that they develop social withdrawal symptoms. There is always the case of both children and adults becoming repeat offenders because they feel victorious invincible on completing the camp program. They become recidivists because they know that they have already conquered the worst form of punishment. Such a program is also only useful in punishment but not in rehabilitation. Its primary focus is to inflict pain as opposed to understanding why the individual committed a crime in the first place. Without solving the underlying issue, the offender will most likely act again.

j)    Recommendations

Research conducted over the past decade consistently indicates that the most effective means of reducing crime rate are through education, GED, and literacy training (Skancke 28). The Department of Adult Probation Study in Arizona demonstrated that adults receiving literacy training had a lower rate of recidivism in comparison to those who were controlled in prisons. The ones who received a GED were 9% less likely to return to crime (Laubepin 12).

A different study in Florida indicates that academic programs created an impact among groups that have a higher recidivism rate (Laubepin 13). A study in New York also discovered that young criminals with a GED had a 40% recidivism rate as compared to 55% among inmates aged under 21 who lack a primary education degree (Laubepin 15). Prisoners who possessed degrees had a 10% recidivism rate, as compared to 62% among those who lacked. These statistics indicate the importance of education before and during incarceration.

The evidence is quite clear that the US system of punishing offenders is not only highly ineffective, but demeaning to human rights, and life threatening, for example the boot camp program. Therefore, why does the United States government insist on using imprisonment as a form of punishment? Why did correctional facilities stop enforcing education among their inmates?

Other than education, the correctional facilities should introduce follow-up programs for ex-inmates. The programs should include individual and community counseling, and incorporate ways in which the ex-inmates can earn a living for themselves (Skancke 35). They should be integrated into programs like counseling juveniles to avoid recidivism, or visiting schools to warn children of the consequences of crime. This way, they are actively involved in including their conscience in making sober decisions because they feel accountable towards their responsibility of advising others.

The government should also take an active part in the administration process. First, they should ensure that the wardens are paid well, and given good benefits. Second, they should also monitor closely these facilities to ensure they are being run well, and provide enough staff to deal with the inmates. They should also supervise strictly performance, and put strict rules regarding the involvement of officials with the prisoners.


Individuals falter and commit a crime every once in a while because it is human nature. As this paper indicates, people have various reasons for having committed offenses, and it is unfortunate that they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Previously, the United States prison system was marked by inhumane treatment, overcrowding, and poor living conditions. However, activists reviewed the role of punishment and advocated for better living standards and the adaptation of better forms of punishment. It is for the gain of the society that offenders should be rehabilitated instead of being punished. The current system is losing because it centers more on penology than correction and rehabilitation. Forms of punishment like boot camp programs are seen to be failing, and in place, criminology experts advice for the introduction of counseling, education training, and self-sustenance programs.

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